'We tell Afridi, give yourself 20-25 balls' - Misbah
Having won Pakistan their previous match against India, Shahid Afridi walked in with Pakistan in an even more difficult situation against Bangladesh. With 52 balls remaining, Pakistan needed 102 runs to win. He proceeded to clout 59 off 25 balls, sending seven sixes soaring over the ropes. In between those big hits off the spinners, he kept his head about him, and was prepared to take singles and wait for the loose balls against the seam bowlers.
"I think that's the message given to Shahid Afridi, that at least he should give himself 20-25 balls," Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan's captain, said after his team's three-wicket win. "Just make sure that you play 25-30 balls. We know that when he plays 20-25 balls, he can score 50. I think that's what he's doing, and I'm really happy with the way he's playing."
Afridi's controlled aggression was in some ways reminiscent of how he had batted on the road to Pakistan winning the 2009 World T20 title in England. With another edition of that tournament mere days away, Misbah said Afridi's form boded well for Pakistan's prospects.
"I think that's the biggest plus for us, the way Shahid Afridi is playing, not only in this [Asia Cup] final, but also T20 World Cup is coming, so he's the main player, and the kind of form he is in, the kind of confidence, it's good for the Pakistan team."
Misbah said Pakistan could look to use him in a flexible role during the World T20. "He is always used in T20 whenever such a situation comes, he is promoted, and depending on the start his number changes," Misbah said. "I think, the kind of form he is in, Pakistan can use him anywhere in the order."
Pakistan's chase wasn't all about Afridi, of course. Ahmed Shehzad's century and his opening stand of 97 with Mohammad Hafeez laid a solid platform before Fawad Alam, returning to the ODI side after three-and-a-half years, guided the team through the closing stages in the company of Afridi and Umar Akmal. While most of the questions at the press conference were about Afridi's whirwind innings, Misbah kept drawing attention to the other batsmen's contributions.
"I think so," he said, when asked if Afridi's innings was one of the best he had seen. "Not only Shahid Afridi, but also the way Fawad Alam and Ahmed Shehzad played. After his 50, the way he picked up the run rate, it was almost 10 an over and he brought it down to 8, and then well supported by Fawad Alam, and the start of Hafeez was also crucial, and Shahid Afridi. I think all of them I think played much-needed knocks, and in the end Umar Akmal finished it well. In the end it was a great combination of all these batsmen who really won us the game."
With their successful chase of a 327-run target, Pakistan had shrugged a particularly clingy monkey off their backs. They had failed in their last 12 pursuits of 250-plus targets, the most recent instance coming in their opening match of the Asia Cup against Sri Lanka, where they lost wickets in a heap to let go of a dominant position.
Asked what the team talk had been like following that defeat, Misbah said the team management, particularly their chief cricket consultant Zaheer Abbas, had stressed on the need for the batsmen to stay at the crease till the end.
"I think the message was very clear, even by the great Zaheer Abbas, that the kind of ability we have in our dressing room, especially our batsmen, if our batsmen play 50 overs, we can just chase any target," Misbah said. "That was the message even today when we started chasing, that we need to play 50 overs. The batsmen need to play 50 overs, so that was the task given by the management and me also, and we did it and it proved right at the end and we chased the target."